About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« Grasping at Straws | Main | Boondoggling the Inauguration »

December 22, 2008


J. Cutler

Fair use and comment is one thing, but we're talking about a purely commercial enterprise here. Why should the Boston Globe profit (literally) from the work of Gatehouse news reporters?

It's not necessarily true that this type of news aggregation drives hits to the source. Many folks just scan the headlines and leads (a significant difference than just linking to headlines, imho) and stop there, never bothering to click thru and read the full article.

Gatehouse may well be motivated by financial reasons (shocking) and burdened too much debt, but in this case they are in the right and I hope they prevail.

I guess that makes me a dinosaur.

Brad F

Aggregation is all a search play.

The YourTown websites are hosted as sub-directories of the main boston.com site.


So the YourTown sites reap the search engine mojo of Boston.com

Meanwhile Gatehouse's sites are at WickedLocal.

Boston.com's got a lot more google mojo than WickedLocal I'd guess.

So it's not far off to say that for some of the searches that would lead to WickedLocal articles, Boston.com's google mojo might just make their "aggregated" link appear higher in the search results.

It's all about search results.


JCutter: Which of these is not like the others:

- A large, commercial web site with a name that sounds vaguely like a really big number links to your site's story. OK, or not?

- Your TV station's movie critic uses selected clips from a new movie to show that the flick descends to new levels of absurd and inane - and s/he posts the review on the station website, too. Can the producers and publicists sue?

- The newspaper across town (in those halycon days) or a TV station thumps you with an investigative series that you simply can't ignore. Some poor schlep reporter is assigned to write a lede along the likes of "The mayor is seen nude in photographs with a dead woman, a live man, and what appears to be a goat, (competitor's name here) has reported."
Legally OK, although crow needs lots of salt to be edible.

- Jim Romenesko links to a story someone else wrote about the Gatehouse lawsuit.

How do *any* of these differ in a meaningful way from what Boston.com is doing?

They don't. All three are clearly examples of fair use - and if the Google example is, then the Boston.com example is.

Mark (and countless others) have made this point, but I have to repeat it: Any sustainable competitive advantage we have *must* come from the quality and focus of our content - not attempting to maintain distribution monopolies. Aggregation is legal, and will happen (and already does) is audiences find it useful. Use it as a weapon and a shield.

Michael K. Pate

If you visit the sites of the Tampa Tribune (tbo.com or tampatrib.com) and St. Pete Times (tampabay.com), I have more than once clicked a link on one of the sites and ended up on the other one. These are two news organizations that thoroughly dislike each other but realize that a love/hate symbiotic/parasitic relationship is good for both of them.

Ian Lamont

This is indeed a sad day for the Newton Tab and Daily News Tribune. I've been a reader of the print edition of both papers for many years, and also love the Tab blog -- I consider it to be an example for other newspaper publishers to follow, in terms of building traffic and engaging readers.

This lawsuit is totally misguided. It hurts Gatehouse and the Tab/News Tribune in the long run, and may even have a chilling effect on other aggregators and new media ventures.


Doesn't the Boston Globe lose money? In't the NYTimes going bankrupt in 2009?

"This is counterintuitive, I guess, to newspaper folks who were raised in their walled gardens"

The walled gardens that used to make money?

Giving away your content to aggregators is so ... money losing. So is giving away your stories for free.

I mean ... free is good for me. I've stopped buying newspapers. But It is not good for newspapers.

Free news devalues paid for news. Only suckers buy papers.


I agree that this lawsuit is totally misguided.

Personally, I am not sure why they are in such a race to the bottom.

Dennis Goedegebuure

@J. Cutler
So why not sue Google?
They put up links on their website, literally taken from the source website, and profit from the content through putting ads around it.
Google = even more deep pockets than Time!

If you want to play on the Internet, please understand first how the medium works!

Chris Krewson

Really, the complaint ought to be required reading.

Here's an interesting excerpt:

"GateHouse earns revenue from WickedLocal primarily through advertising, which is concentrated on the WickedLocal "home page." This placement ensures that users accessing WickedLocal are exposed to such advertising as they peruse the various headlines and ledes before deciding whether to delve more deeply into the Web pages containing specific articles."

Entire suit here:


John Duncan

Mark: You are rocking this week... can I have your egg-nog recipe..?

I agree with those here who say that Fair Use wasn't designed to allow other people to profit from content that they did not create. I think you can make an argument that posting a link or series of links is fair use. More concerning are the sites that summarise the story in a way that means a user can comfortably avoid the provider's website. like Newser, which is a great service to readers and very well executed but which is exploiting fair use to avoid paying for content. The danger here is that the ecosystem that works now on the web will cease working if a whole species gets wiped out by parasites...

Here's my tuppence ha'penny...
Newser: Brilliant but toxic

Whet Moser

As a recent victim of 'aggregation' from the Huffington Post (multiple concert previews taken in full), I'm starting to get worried about the general direction of aggregated media.

I guess I'd side with NYTCo on this one--they're at least trying to get people to read the sites they link to. But it's worth keeping in mind, since virtually no one talks about it, the role of search-engine optimization, or SEO.

In short, what some sites do is claim fair use in taking excerpts from other sites--large chunks from many stories. Then they flood them with tags, internal links, and outbound links, which drives their page rank up. They skim traffic (and ad dollars) off people who go through Google as their primary means of finding information.

In short, the fair use is directed toward making their sites more 'relevant' to search engines, *using other people's content.*

It's one thing, I think, for a blogger to take a chunk from a story and talk about it; blogs that do that have enriched my understanding of many issues. I consider that transformative, even if they sometimes take the 'gist' of the story. It's a bit touchy, but overall I'm glad it's permitted and almost certainly legal.

But that's not the direction aggregation is going in. The argument of these aggregators is that they're driving pageviews for smaller sites, but they're also benefitting financially by taking, in part, original content, without creating any of their own (even so much as a comment on the original), and driving the original content producers below them in search-engine rankings.

Take a look at the HuffPo homepage, for instance, and notice the "Quick Read" option. I really can't take that as anything other than "just read the important part of their work here." That strikes me as an abuse of fair use.

Whet Moser

Which is not to say that HuffPo is not creating original content of its own--just that their approach to aggregation isn't transformative at all. They don't add value to it.


They could just use robots.txt to block bots. In addition they need to remove their feed. If they do these two things nobody will 'steal' their content. They wont have any traffic either.

As for commenter #1: yes you are a fucking dinosaur, not something to be proud of, it just means you are ignorant and blocking progress. I am looking forward to the day when all that is left of your generation is wetting their Depends at nursing homes.

Whet Moser


They're not taking feeds. They took content from us which doesn't have a feed.

Sachin Balagopalan

The guy who runs boston.com's "Your Town" hyper-local sites used to be a VP at Gatehouse's WIcked Local. So perhaps this is more than just about linking :) .. http://bit.ly/K29h

J. Cutter

I see that contrary points of view don't appear welcome here. I'll take my dinosaur ball elsewhere. Merry christmas.

Cynthia C

Maybe I'm confused, but are they linking-linking or outright taking huge chunks of other papers' stories? Because the former is pretty common for a lot of newspapers, I think. I always see Facebook/Digg/email buttons in articles, which seems to mean that newspapers are encouraging sharing.

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